Mondays aren’t usually too exciting, but now 2022 is upon us there’s plenty of reasons to be excited ahead of what promises to be a sensational year of motorsport.
This year is revolutionary too with both Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship entering a new cycle of technical regulations. But while our circuit-racing friends have to wait another two months for round one, the WRC is now just a matter of weeks away from beginning.
But it’s not just the WRC that’s worth getting excited about, as we’re about to explain. Here are DirtFish’s 10 things to look forward to in off-road motorsport in 2022.
WRC’s Rally1 shake-up
We’ll start with the obvious and aforementioned one, shall we?
It’s all change in the WRC next year. The World Rally Car is gone in favor of the all-new Rally1 machines, complete with a hybrid unit for the first time in world rallying. Spaceframe chassis are back too for the first time since the Group B era ended 35 years ago, so add all that up and it’s clear things will be different this season.
That’s a tremendously exciting position for the WRC to be in. Which team will have done the best job with its new car? Will it remain the team to beat throughout the season? And how difficult will the new hybrid systems be for teams and drivers alike to adjust to?
The WRC has been tremendously exciting in recent years, but in 2022 it’s set to become even more thrilling.
Nitro going global
The first full season of Nitro Rallycross was undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2021. Series pioneer and eventual champion Travis Pastrana took the idea of rallycross and went wild with it – creating tracks with huge jumps and alternative racing lines that redefined what the discipline could be.
The tricky second album follows this season, but Nitro RX has the track list sorted. While last year the series was solely based in the US, in 2022 the championships is due to Europe – with the potential to go even further beyond in the future – as Pastrana’s plan to make it the ultimate rallycross championship develops.
It’s hard to see it being anything other than a success. 2021 delivered some iconic battles and close racing, so taking that formula and shoving it under more people’s noses can only serve Nitro – and rallycross fans – well.
Rally New Zealand and Japan return
If you’re superstitious, the WRC’s promised visit to Japan may be starting to feel a little cursed. For two years now the service park has been set to descend on the country for the season finale, only for COVID-19 to distort those plans.
All fingers remain crossed that the WRC will finally make it this November. The event has been missed from the calendar since it last ran in 2010 and is a hugely influential market for the WRC with one of its biggest manufacturers – Toyota – and Takamoto Katsuta hailing from there.
The return of Rally New Zealand is just as tantalizing. The famously gorgeous cambered roads haven’t been rallied on by anyone currently competing at world level except Hyundai’s trio of Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.
Watching the current generation in the significantly more aggressive cars than the ones that competed in 2012 in this region is already giving us goosebumps.
A new-look ERC
The European Rally Championship joins the WRC and World Rallycross Championship in WRC Promoter’s growing portfolio of major championships in 2022. That makes this year’s ERC more than worth keeping tabs on.
At face value not much is changing this year. With the exception of Rally Hungary losing its spot, the calendar closely mirrors that of last year’s as the new series bosses have elected to steady the ship in year one before unveiling any major changes. There will be live streaming of events via WRC All Live and a powerstage added though, in-line with the WRC.
There’ll also be a new man in charge. Former Rally GB clerk of the course and British Rally Championship manager Iain Campbell has accepted the championship manager role at the ERC, bringing with him a wealth of experience. As a well respected FIA steward, Campbell looks to be a shrewd appointment.
What will all this mean this year? Nobody quite knows, which is always exciting.
Craig Breen in a full season
It’s now a heavily used statistic that 2022 will be Craig Breen’s first full season in a top-line car in the WRC, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Or exciting.
It’s rare for a driver who has never won a world rally, let alone a championship, to have such a wave of optimism and expectation behind them ahead of a season. But the quality of Breen’s part campaign in 2021 with Hyundai, and the expected quality of M-Sport’s Puma Rally1, is such that the Irishman is being touted as a real threat this term.
The question remains, will he be? It’s very difficult to answer that heading into a WRC season that presents so many unknowns, but it would be foolish to not expect Breen to be up there.
And that point about having not won a rally before? Marcus Grönholm hadn’t won until Rally Sweden 2000, and nine months later his hands were wrapped around the championship trophy…
A new World Rally Champion?
It isn’t just the rules reset that makes the WRC such a mouth-watering prospect this year, the lack of Sébastien Ogier does too. OK, he and his old sparring partner Sébastien Loeb will both compete on the Monte (which will be fabulous to see) but neither will compete a full season.
That means that neither of the two drivers that have won 17 of the last 18 titles can win again in 2022. The net result is it’s highly probable a new World Rally champion could be crowned later this year.
The only other driver to have won since Loeb’s first success in 2004 – Ott Tänak – could of course net a second title, but given his tumultuous two years since moving from Toyota to Hyundai, a Tänak success would almost feel like a brand new one.
And then there’s the other contenders, chiefly Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville. Both have been involved in their share of title fights but have yet to get the job done. And what about Kalle Rovanperä? Or Craig Breen? Your guess is as good as ours.
World RX finally going electric
The World Rallycross Championship went on a bit of a wane in 2021 as entry numbers thinned, but the hope is that will be reversed this year.
Finally, after a few stalled attempts and years of promise, the championship is going fully electric this term. Of all the motorsport disciplines out there, rallycross has looked the best designed for electric propulsion and finally we can test the validity of that prediction.
What will it do to the racing? Likely very little, in the sense that it’ll still be a tactical yet flat-out contest from the opening lap to the final one. But World RX is certainly worth tuning in to as it attempts to show the world how exciting electric rallycross can be.
Extreme E’s sequel
The jury remains out on the debut season of Extreme E. There’s plenty to be encouraged by – and plenty of star driving talent to admire – but equally plenty for the series organizer to work on for season two.
XE’s ambition and efforts to use motorsport in promoting better practices to prevent climate change is nothing but laudable, and already a difference is being made on location by the series’ team of scientists. But at points in 2021 it felt like XE was nothing more than a showcase when it’s also supposed to be a bona fide racing series.
The final round in Dorset did allay some of those concerns as the competition was closer than it had been all year long – likely a combination of teams getting to grips with the Odyssey 21 and the car becoming more reliable.
This year, the racing needs to be that competitive, if not more, if it is to keep its strong driver and team line-ups stimulated and maintain them for seasons to come. Inaugural seasons are always tricky though, so whatever happens this year will be intriguing to monitor.
ARA’s continual growth
American rallying has never been particularly considered – or perhaps even respected – in Europe, but how the tables have turned. Never has there been more worldwide interest in the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National series than there is right now.
Ironically, a US talent (in Travis Pastrana) claimed the title for the first time in half a decade last year, but the number of guest drivers from Ireland in particular, but also farther afield, was mouth-watering. All signs point to this curve improving this year.
The calendar is nothing revolutionary but that’s nothing to be sad about given the rich and diverse quality of events on offer from the treacherous Sno*Drift Rally to the super-fast New England Forest Rally and technical Ojibwe Forests event.
And what of the competition? It’s never been closer than it was in 2021 at the front, and all four protagonists – Subaru’s Pastrana and Brandon Semenuk, Barry McKenna and Ken Block – are tipped to return this year. Bring it on.
A rally raid revolution
Are we saving the best until last? Quite possibly, given the Dakar Rally – which DirtFish is covering in-depth – started on Sunday, and cross-country rallying will look very different this year.
The headline news is the advent of the FIA Cross-Country Rallying World Championship. Never before has there been a world title for rally raid but in 2022 there is, and the prestigious Dakar kicks off the five-round season.
The cars have evolved too with new T1+ regulations introduced. Running alongside T1-E for vehicles with any form of electric propulsion, the category has been introduced to help balance the performance between four-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive machines (such as buggies), and means the likes of Toyota and Bahrain Raid Xtreme will compete with new versions of their Hilux and T1 models respectively.
Audi has thrown its hat into the ring too, though its enviable line-up of Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel, three-time winner Carlos Sainz, and top-class debutant Mattias Ekström have had tricky starts.
Can it win on debut? Can Sébastien Loeb finally translate his searing Dakar pace into a victory? Or will Toyota reign supreme? Next week isn’t long to wait to find out, is it?